Walking through our vestibule you‘d swear the Wicked Witch of the West met her dismembering doom via a fallen couch. Grandma's artificial leg leaned against the living room wall wearing its black shoe, stocking, and rubber garter. Grandma's “good” leg lay flat on the floor, sticking out from behind the couch. Her cigarette-singed: "Who came in?" was a relief.
“It's me, Grandma.” The Easter palm I held waved as I swiveled on my heel towards a painting on the wall behind me.
“Sunday school over already?”
“Yep. I got your palm. Can I put it behind Great-Aunt Eliza‘s picture?” Great-Aunt Eliza died as a child. She sat for eternity in a rocker wearing a fancy dress behind the oval frame’s bubbled glass.
“Put it on my chair. I have to burn the old one in the ashtray first.” I obeyed. Grandma cursed, behind my back, behind the upholstery. “Hand me those studs.”
I scanned the debris on the floor: pieces of material, a ballpeen hammer, scissors, carpet tacks, Grandma's pocketbook, cigarettes, nails and a clear-topped box of heavy duty gold studs. The man at the hardware store said they‘d work if Grandma tacked the material on first.
“Here they are Grandma.” I handed them in the direction of the live leg. Her hand popped out from behind the Early American furniture she resurrected, took the plastic box, and was gone.
Holidays called for sprucing up the house, but those puny studs didn't stand a chance against my brother's furniture abuse. Masked explicatives behind the couch made it clear the studs gave Grandma trouble.
“Why are you doing that today Grandma?”
Her leg shifted. "You can't expect me to sew on the Sabbath." The unfinished Easter dresses for my sister and me must’ve been on her mind. "We don‘t use needles on Sunday in respect for Christ being pierced." Grandma's point confused me when she added, "Hand me that ball peen hammer.”
The left corner of the old couch's headrest didn't flap when I leaned on it to hand her the tool. “How'dya fix the wing tip?” I inspected her handiwork.
“I reinforced it with nails and pulled the material taut over it.” She pretended not to be proud. She didn’t even curse.
“The couch looks nice, Grandma.” Uncle John, no relation, had found the material in the trash outside a warehouse. Its color clashed even worse than the original fabric. Scraps of it on the floor tripped my mind back to the dresses. “Where's Mommy?”
“In the kitchen.”
I moved fast, hoping Grandma wouldn't need something else before I was far enough away to "not" hear her.
“Mommy, where'd Grandma get the stuff for our Easter dresses?” Sweet onions scented Mom‘s long hands, even when she wasn’t mixing ground meat.
She tilted her head to fix her glasses with the back of her wrist. Sunlight from the kitchen window made her ring glimmer. I tried to remember if, lying in his coffin, Dad had worn his wedding band.
Fatigue filtered through Mom’s answer. “Grandma took apart those curtains we had upstairs.”
“They're itchy.” I couldn’t complain to Grandma. “Liz and me tried them on when Grandma pinned them up yesterday. My legs are all red.” The torturous material never fazed the tough skin on Grandma's hands and forearms as she created those deceiving delights.
Mom didn't understand how bad it was. “You only have to wear them for a little while. Grandma worked hard on them.” As a kid, I didn’t know how to plead my case further.
I dreaded the humiliation. The dresses not only itched and burned. Those sheer pink recycled curtains barely veiled our slips. Mrs. Watson would whisper the word 'fiberglass' as we sat on either side of her waiting to say our Bible verses on the church basement’s stage. Grandma pounded another stud into the furniture. I cringed.
A week later I sat on the revamped couch as Uncle John snapped a picture, finalizing my anguish. My sister was the first to bolt upstairs and strip the abusive pink night terror from her body. We flung the things into the bottom of our closet in exchange for the salvation of sweat pants and t-shirts. Back downstairs, we indulged in candy eggs and animals, renewed. The holiday endured for chocolate, love of others and maybe real dresses next year.
- I can't inhale enough oxygen when I'm not reading. Maybe some day I'll breath stories. But for now I write full-time from my home in southern New Jersey, taking in written words and exhaling them from my subconscious to juggle until they fall into a story. Always looking for kindred spirits in artistic endeavors.
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